Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bettye LaVette - Scen of the Crime

Sultry, sensuous, ominous and emotive.  These are the words that come to mind while listening to Bettye LaVette’s 2007 release Scene Of The Crime.  If you don’t know Bettye LaVette you should.  Ms.LaVette is one greatest soul singers in American music history.  She’s been singing her heart out in relative obscurity for over forty years.  She cut her first record in 1962 at the age of 16.  She’s covered everyone from the Beatles and Neil Young to Kenny Rogers and Etta James, and has even had Stevie Wonder write songs expressly for her.  One of her managers, the late Jim Lewis, back in 1968 had her study Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra for phrasing and timbre manipulation.  When you listen to the entirety of Scene Of The Crime you realize she was a great student that evolved into the master.  She has a scientific approach to music.  When singing covers she takes copious notes about each song in order to find her own approach to the lyric, melody, and arrangement.

The album Scene Of The Crime was primarily recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with the Drive-By Truckers. On it she covers a variety of country and rock songs and turns them into evocative tales. The album was nominated for a 2007 Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Blues Album”  The album also features one song co-written by LaVette and Patterson Hood, the Drive-By Truckers’ frontman, a rollicking biographical musical trip through LaVette’s life aptly named “The Battle Of Bettye LaVette.”

This ten track album deserves to be in every contemporary music fan’s collection.  You haven’t truly heard Don Henley’s “You Don’t Know Me At All”; Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces”; John Hiatt’s “The Last Time”; or Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s “Talking Old Soldiers” until you have listened to LaVette’s raspy dramatic renditions.  She even outdoes Ray Charles on Charles’ version of “They Call It Love” and George Jones on Jones’ version of “Choices.”

LaVette produced this album herself, although you can also hear the hand of David Barbe, a great musician in his own right who has produced every Drive-By Truckers’ album, as well as Son Volt, in the mix. LaVette was also able to secure the keyboard services of legend Spooner Oldham who is best known for his organ work on "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge, "Mustang Sally" by Wilson Pickett and "I Never Loved a Man" by Aretha Franklin.

For 40 minutes Lavette grinds out ballads and roots rockers and for 40 minutes you will be transfixed by greatness.  Pull this one out on a cold, quiet night.  LaVette will provide you with all the heat you will need.

- Old School

Buy here: Scene of the Crime

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